The $400 billion building energy conundrum: why occupants matter

The US spends $400 billion to power buildings each year, about 50% of the total energy use in the country.  Reducing energy waste in these buildings would save billions, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, create jobs, and reduce reliance on fossil fuel imports, not to mention increase resiliency for the economy and individual businesses by insulating them from energy price shocks such as the recent spike in natural gas prices.

The opportunity for campuses to model best practices is paramount to stimulating change from the bottom-up.  One way to reduce costs and energy use: better education of the occupants.

It turns out that people-powered energy efficiency can make quite an impact.   I was an undergraduate during the 1973 oil embargo.   We held competitions among dorms to reduce electrical use, and the campus dorms saved 26%.   Companies doing aggressive employee education programs have achieved 10 to 15% energy reductions, which at Unity College would equate to $20,000 to $30,000 per year.   Energy efficiency solutions already within our grasp can make a huge difference.

Remember, there are no net-zero energy buildings, by definition.   There are net-zero energy occupants of buildings!  People matter.

There is no silver bullet for energy costs or carbon dioxide reduction.  Instead campuses should be looking for ‘silver buckshot’ solutions.   Many little actions will result in big changes – and big savings.  The next step: these changes will require leadership from the top at campuses everywhere.



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